Saturday, 11 April 2015

Immigration and the Imperial Mentality

In the previous post about the UK Labour Party's attachment to British imperialism's nuclear weapons, I forgot to mention another aspect of their policy: on immigration. Especially in the wake of the crisis, there has been a growing shift of UK public opinion to blame immigration for all manner of social ills, from a lack of jobs for Brits, to poor availability of decent housing, to putting a strain on the health and welfare services. British political parties have adapted to this shift in opinion, rather than prompting it, something that is also true of UKIP, the most overtly anti-immigrant party that has gained significant support. Views on immigration are interesting because they reveal a lot about politics in the UK, if not also in other rich countries.

People who vote in elections choose the candidate they think will best represent their interests. Electoral turnouts may decline, as even the dumbest voter realises that nothing much will change and, in any case, the major parties have very similar policies. But this also means that the major political parties will respond, at least rhetorically, to how those interests are expressed. In Britain's case, the clear expression now is that immigration is a problem.

This is not racism, since the immigrants being opposed are mainly white Europeans, rather than black or Asian immigrants as in earlier decades. It is nationalism, the nationalism of an imperialist power that has an implicit deal with the local population to keep their privileges intact.

In the 1980s, the Conservative Party's attacks on trade unions undermined much of the institutional support for racial discrimination in Britain that was given by those unions. A capitalist policy of hiring whoever the boss wanted meant that colour did not enter the calculation as it did before: the boss did not now have to worry about the union objecting on behalf of the existing white workforce. It was this that led the UK to be probably the least racist European country, although that is not saying very much.

This development also meant that those from ethnic minorities could join in the national consensus to defend domestic privileges against outsiders. So even UKIP has non-white members and candidates. Also, despite the Labour Party traditionally getting most ethnic minority votes in the UK, it has had no hesitation in backing an anti-immigration policy, something that dates back more recently to Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown's infamous 'British jobs for British workers' statement in 2007.[1]

It will not come as a surprise to readers that I will not be voting in the forthcoming UK election on 7 May. Still less, if that were possible, for a party that has issued the following special election mug:

The word 'scum' doesn't seem to be strong enough to describe these people, but it is apt for the ideological dirt or froth bubbling above a reactionary political development.

Tony Norfield, 11 April 2015

[1] Notes on the background to this statement are set out in 'Gordon Brown's 'British jobs' pledge has caused controversy before', The Guardian, 30 January 2009.


SteveH said...

I think you are wrong about it not being racist but nationalist.

I still think people have no problem with US or Australian citizens settling in Britain, even Aussies who do nothing but work in bars. People have more of a problem with Eastern Europeans or Muslims. When attacking immigrants the media always imply people who are poor, culturally different and have darker skins.

Anonymous said...

If you feel uncomfortable with Marxism and class theory, perhaps you should drop "Imperialism" from your blog and go full-social liberal with identity politics? Have you ever traveled? If so, you know full well not one non-Western country is importing workers, much less to the point of total destruction of the home culture by ones that do not believe in tolerance or left politics.
There's nothing in Marxism that demands obliteration of one culture by importing unlimited amounts from another culture to offer a one-off wage suppression...

Tony Norfield said...

Please see my reply to Anonymous, Imperialism and Social Democracy, 29 April 2015.

Philip Ferguson said...

In New Zealand now, you're much more likely to find the Labour Party attacking 'foreigners' than the National Party (NZ equivalent of the Tories).

Indeed, it's quite common to see National Party politicians criticising Labour for being xenophobic.


Anonymous said...

I'm partially familiar with NZ. It's a small remote country that has adopted neoliberal policies. it's in the midst of an education and housing 'boom' driven by very generous laws for foreign capital, mostly from China and India. The result: sky high prices and an owning class almost completely foreign. That doesn't sound like a great recipe for an independent economy looking for real growth.